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Top Ten Ends of the World

A column article, Top Ten by: Zack Davisson, Daniel Elkin, Nick Hanover, Paul Brian McCoy, Jamil Scalese

Friday, December 21, 2012.

12/21/12.

The day marked off by the Mayans as the End of the World.

The day that loonies and fruitcakes the world over are planning on taking to the hills with their survival rations, guns, and bibles. The day people are trying to get custody of their kids for the weekend, just in case. The day that maybe the poles are going to flip, or maybe meteors will rain down upon us, or maybe aliens from another dimension will invade, or maybe Billy Crystal and Bette Midler will team-up to make a family comedy! – Oh wait. That's Christmas day.

Maybe this End of the World thing ain't so bad after all.

To help prove that point, the Comics Bulletin staff have gathered in the CB Bunker and compiled our Top Ten Ends of the World across mediums. We've got comics, cartoons, movies, games, and a special look at zombie apocalypses in general!

Wait!

First, a song.

Ahem.

So without further ado (because frankly, we may not have much time left!) here we go!


Adventure Time (Created by Pendleton Ward - 2010-Present)

There's a reason everyone fears Armageddon, it's like way scary.

Look at the other entries on this list, there is no way you'd trade your posh lifestyle to deal with zombies, ravaged cityscapes or motorcycle gangs that scavenge the world for gasoline (That movie made the list, right?). Yet, not every end of the world scenario brings with it death and mayhem, and that's the case with the favorite cartoon of the Comics Bulletin staff everyone:  Adventure Time!

Following Finn and his stretchy dog Jake, this tale of magic and friendship is actually set in a world once ravaged by nuclear war. While Pendleton Ward's smash hit never explicitly mentions the death of billions, the references to "The Great Mushroom War" along with the occasional glimpse of a crumbling city full of skeletons or a cratered Earth-like globe point to the fact that humans blew themselves up a long time ago.

No reason to worry, though; magic took over, and now the Land of Ooo is pretty much the most algebraic place one can wish to be. I'm all about our impending doom if it means I can possibly chill out with Ice King and Gunter.

-- Jamil Scalese


Cabin in the Woods (Directed by Drew Goddard - 2011)

Somewhere in the coldest corner of my nihilistic little heart, the part that occasionally longs for a massive meteor strike or a new ice age, I'm always a little let down when movie apocalypses are averted at the last minute. So imagine my surprise when at the climax of Cabin in the Woods [SPOILER WARNING!!] our sole survivors decide that lighting up a joint, watching the world die, and starting over from scratch was the correct response to continuing lives of slavery to Elder Gods.

I giggled like a fool.

Sure, it was selfish and completely counter to that classic "The good of the many outweighs the good of the few" nugget, but you know what? The high road is not always the road worth traveling. This is especially true when we're talking about a social structure with a foundation built on control, order, and the ritualized sacrifice of the unwilling or unwitting.

And I'm not just talking about a fantasy universe shared by all of our celluloid horrors, although that makes watching it come to pass all the more entertaining. And that's without even attempting to address the inherent symbolism of the film, which, it can be argued, identifies the Elder Gods with the viewing audience and the ritual sacrifice of the five kids with a symbolic social purging of violent impulses in more and more graphic cinematic extremes.

Sometimes you have to wipe the slate clean before any lasting fix can be implemented and it was refreshing as hell to see that option chosen instead of half-measures or a deus ex machina saving of the day.

-- Paul Brian McCoy


Fallout (Interplay/Black Isle/Bethesda/Obsidian - 1997-Present)

The '50s was a golden era for sci-fi, defined by an overwhelmingly optimistic hope for the potential of the future in one camp and a bleakly fatalist view of the future in the other, both driven to these ends by atomic energy, that Prometheus-like fire of the gods. But those two ends of that era of classic sci-fi is too infrequently married, or at least not to the insightfully clever extent that the Fallout series has managed since it debuted in 1997.

A descendant of sorts of the influential late '80s PC game Wasteland, the world of Fallout is our world, if all our dreams in the '50s of the world of today had come true, only to be ruined shortly after by nuclear war between the US and China. It's a world where humanity lives in pockets of sort-of societies and aggressive gangs, with just a few major players gunning for power and control of a very limited sort. And in every main iteration of the series, you play as a "vault dweller," an inhabitant of one of the many titular Vaults in the game, locations that served as part fallout shelter/part grand social experiment.

Along the way, you of course run into the kinds of creatures we're used to in post-apocalyptic fiction-- raiders, mutants, zombies. Except they've all been given twists-- the raiders are often closer to tribes than generic assholes, the mutants are genetically modified super soldiers that are part of an insidious plot by a mad scientist, and the zombies are "ghouls," survivors of the initial nuclear bombings who often aren't hostile at all, just regular people with full personalities who just happen to look a little fucked up. 

Fallout is a true role playing game, in that you must inhabit the story and carefully decide your next action, as every decision has an impact, but it's also fully immersive, the kind of world that is terrible and cruel but also entirely captivating. It's also post-apocalyptic fiction at its finest, imaginative and self-aware, willing to have fun with its setting and drop jokes as frequently as it drops horrors, all the more impressive given that it's part of a medium that often deemphasizes story in favor of tech advancement. 

-- Nick Hanover


Fear Agent (Rick Remender, Tony Moore, and Jerome Opena - 2005-2011)

Once you get into the antihero main character, giant brain monsters, alien warfare, time police, rocket ships and an ex-wife turned President, it might easy to forget that Fear Agent starts with the end of the world.

Well, not the complete end of course, otherwise we would never have had the pleasure of meeting Heath Huston, a heavy-drinking space exterminator with a grudge against everything. After a whole mess of alien races demolish Earth, the grieving Heath helps to create the Fear Agents, a brigade of freedom fighters with a lovely color scheme.

Throughout much of Rick Remender, Tony Moore and Jerome Opena's classic sci-fi adventure story, Heath is a brooding smartass, but the unlikely hero was an innocent Texan family man before he was a space misanthrope. In the face of unspeakable tragedy, Heath transforms himself into something more efficient, and we the reader are rewarded with the cosmic journey of a cynical badass with a penchant for calling people "buttermilk".

So don't fret. If the end comes in the form of extraterrestrial invasion there is a chance a select few of will splinter off, defend our planet and eventually commit genocide with a giant tanker truck of slugkiller juice. Hope springs eternal and all that junk.

-- Jamil Scalese


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Written by Douglas Adams - 1979)

Although disguised in quirky characters and clever dialog, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is ultimately about nihilism—and the End of the World.

In fact, Douglas Adams is not content to merely blow up the Earth—which he does in the first few pages—he recreates the Earth and destroys it again, designs a race of whose sole purpose is to wipe out all existent life, and even blows up the entire Universe for your dining pleasure.  Adams can’t seem to view the Universe as something more than a giant mistake that needs to be cleared up, as evidenced in God’s Final Message to His Creation—“I apologize for the inconvenience.”

This shouldn’t be a real surprise, because The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy got its start in a nihilistic way. The original radio series (you do know the series started as a radio play, right? The books came later.) was from a proposal for a series called The Ends of the Earth that would feature short, self-contained radio plays each that ended with the destruction of the Earth in a new and interesting manner. Adams’ first (and only) contribution was a story of the Earth being destroyed, along with its 9 billion inhabitants, to make way for a hyperspace bypass.  Nothing personal, humans. Just bureaucracy.

The story grew in the telling, but Adams never quite got over that idea that the world would be a better place if we were all wiped out. In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, he shows us Milleyways, where people gather for a last toast and buffet at the End of All Things. In Life, the Universe, and Everything, there are the Krikkit warriors, a polite and gentle race dedicating to eliminating all life in the Universe, just because they are feeling a bit crowded.  That book also includes a computer that designed a Universe-destroying bomb, and then was aghast when it realized that people actually intended to use it.  And of course, his gloomiest and most cynical book of all, Mostly Harmless, where not only are all of those quirky characters killed off, but an insane piece of technology actually goes through the multiverse and destroys all possible versions of the Earth, then cauterizes the wound in such a way that the human race can never rise again.

And that’s the final page.

Douglas Adams was clearly not a man who had high expectations for the continued existence of the human race.

-- Zack Davisson


The Rapture (Directed by Michael Tolkin - 1991)

I was 24 years old or so when I first saw The Rapture and I wasn't sure what I was getting into; all I knew was that Mimi Rogers was hot and there was a fair amount of kinky sex involved. Imagine my surprise when Rogers' bored, orgy-addicted telephone operator decides that empty sex isn't filling her emotional void. Imagine my further surprise when she embraces a fundamentalist, cult-like Christian sect that believes the Apocalypse is coming (as they tend to do). What I thought was going to be a Red Shoes Diary sort of thing (it even featured David Duchovny, who would make his name as a Red Shoes Diary regular over the next few years) turned out to be a daring exploration of faith and submission to authority.

After starting a life in the Church, marrying Duchovny, and having a child, Rogers' character Sharon then has everything taken away from her and blames God. First her husband is murdered by a disgruntled employee and then after waiting for the Rapture in the desert, she kills her daughter rather than let her die slowly and painfully from exposure. She then confesses to the murder and goes to jail.

Then the Rapture occurs. D'oh!

But, in a move that made me love this film unconditionally, she refuses to renounce her anger at God for His cruelty, even after being bribed with the promise of being reunited with her husband and daughter in Heaven in exchange for her submission. Therefore, she is left alone in an empty Purgatory as the credits roll in silence.

As someone who had been reading Camus and Sartre since I stumbled across them during my senior year of high school, writer/director Michael Tolkin's film was a powerful existential statement that explored ideas of power and freedom that I'd been obsessing over as only a twenty-something wannabe philosopher could. Mimi Rogers alone in the darkness was a striking image of resistance and freedom that still resonates with me more than twenty years later.

-- Paul Brian McCoy


The Road (Written by Cormac McCarthy - 2006)

As someone with two degrees in Literature, I have an embarrassing confession to make. I haven't read anything by American literary treasure Cormac McCarthy except for The Road, so I couldn't tell you anything about how this fits into his overall oeuvre, or if it continues and builds on themes of his other work or not.

What I can tell you is that if you want a brutal, depressing exploration of the love between a father and son against a backdrop of nuclear ash, cannibalism, and loss of faith. The story itself is pared down to the bare bones, as characters called only "the father" or "the man" and "the son" or "the boy" make a long, painful trek south to the sea, hoping to avoid the coming winter. The details of the journey are heartbreaking as we watch "the man" slowly realize that he's dying and "the boy" begins to doubt that they're "the good guys".

I'm not going to go into the symbolism or spend a lot of time on the story as a metaphor for the loss and discovery of faith in God. That stuff is in there if you want to look for it, and part of what makes the work resonate the way it does. But it also functions on a straight-forward horror level as the two protagonists flee from a cannibal gang (expending one of their final two bullets in the horrifying escape), or discover a group of people being held in a disgusting basement and harvested for food, or the nightmarish glimpse of a baby roasting on a spit.

McCarthy holds nothing back and the spare, direct style makes it all the more powerful.

Being the depressive bastard that I am, though, I wasn't entirely satisfied with the ending, but after over two hundred pages of such unrelenting, oppressive nihilism, I can't hold it against McCarthy to end with a hint of light. That's what helps to make it more than just a catalog of post-apocalyptic horror, really.

If you can make it through the darkness, you will be rewarded. I promise.

-- Paul Brian McCoy


Testament (Directed by Lynne Littman - 1983)

Boy, let me tell you, growing up in Texas in the early 80s had its share of challenges. Foremost among these, though, was the fact that everyone was doing their best to convince me that a nuclear holocaust was imminent and I should be doing everything in my teenage power to prepare for this apocalypse. Nothing spells long sessions on a therapist's couch in your future than stirring up a cocktail of hormones and genocide, a push for life combined with a fear of death. And so it was.

It was the Reagan years after all.

In December of 1983, to add further fuel to my fire-engorged nightmares, Paramount Pictures released a nice little film called Testament. The film tells a lovely little tale of the trials and tribulations of the Wetherly family. The Wetherlys lived in a suburb of San Francisco, and the film is about them as they cope with the "realities" of a nuclear war. Nothing about this is fun, or pleasant, or upbeat.

My dad took me to see Testament in the theaters. He wanted to talk to me about it afterwards over dinner. I'm thinking Thai food. Remember those therapy sessions I mentioned above? Yeah, that was part of those too.

Because in this film the Wetherlys were a nice, white, suburban family (eep, just like my family), who, when the bombs drop, get to watch everybody die. And they weren't watching the big boom blow up – flash of light burn – kinda deaths either. No, Testament wanted you to understand that, in the event of a nuclear war, those caught in the blast were the lucky ones. Those of us in the suburbs, like the Wetherlys, got to watch as their loved ones slowly died from radiation poisoning, or watch as neighbor turned against neighbor savagely as supplies began to run low. Testament wanted you to see a mother gather her children and be forced to decide whether or not it would be better to kill them than let them live in this world.

Remember. This was the early 80s. This shit was real. Not Zombies or Mayans or Meteors or Climate Change – Nukes. Poised to strike at any moment. Our President told us it could happen at any moment.

So why am I so jaded at times? Why do I try to take pleasure when I can, seemingly at the expense of either my health or my "future"? Because when I was coming of age, I was told that I might not get the opportunity to get laid or drive a car or even vote against Reagan. I was brought to Testament by my father so I could understand the realities of the world in which I was being raised.

That nuclear war? It hasn't happened yet, but the emotional toil that an apocalyptic film like Testament unleashed upon my generation was an end of times moment in and of itself.

-- Daniel Elkin


The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (David Bowie - 1972)

Four decades ago we were treated to an end of world prophecy of a different sort, a madcap poetic fantasy from a former Dylan acolyte who had discovered there was more fun to be had in make-up and women's clothing and the cocky swagger of a glitter coated Les Paul than any Greenwhich Village co-op jams. His name was David Bowie, or Ziggy Stardust depending on the scene, and he was "well hung and snow white tan," possessed of a "god given ass," and in total control of rock's libido, an element of the music that had been in hibernation for some time. But this wasn't assets and fucking for the sake of pop, this was the desperate orgasmic clawing of end times, the thrill of giving yourself to another because you don't know what the morning brings or if there will even be one.

You see, according to Ziggy and his "Five Years" ultimatum, "News had just come over/We had five years left to cry in/News guy wept and told us/Earth was really dying." We'd pillaged our natural habitat and there was nothing left to do but fuck and cry and look for leftover kicks. Bowie's alter ego may have been into that game at the onset, but in his debut and swan song, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, that same alter ego went through all the stages of grief, pushing aside Bowie's previous output in favor of an end times boogie that shows itself today in Lady Gaga, Of Montreal, LCD Soundsystem, or whatever your patron saint of choice may be. Ziggy Stardust the character and Ziggy Stardust the album are eulogies to rock as youth's drug of choice, a recognition by a legend late to the game that rock and roll had mutated and its offspring acolytes had raided the kitchen and killed the parent, that there were five years left before rock would be killed altogether by something savage and fierce and truly apocalyptic. 

Back then, Ziggy was talking visions of punk rock, which would go supernova by '77, and five years after that it would be hip-hop, which would stabilize itself by '82, five years on from there you had R.E.M.'s collegiate rock taking things back away from the balls and then five years again you'd have the atom bomb of Nirvana, crushing both brain and scrotum in favor of stomach bile and cancerous ennui. But 40 years on and 8 cycles later, it's tempting to strip Ziggy of his musical messiah prophecies and go back to the source, to Bowie's sci-fi obsession and his notion that we were killing our real home and opening ourselves up to some kind of anti-matter vacation paradise, the type of thing Matrixes and Atlases and so on had visualized on silver screens. 

Is our world of Twitter handles what Ziggy was talking about when he was asked to deliver status updates in short bursts of pop? Are the Starmen that let us down reality tv celebrities who don't know a platform when they see one? Is 2012 the end of the final five year deadline or the start of the end? And who will be our new Ziggy, a willing stage sacrifice who won't think twice of being torn apart in the public eye, ravaged by those in need of energy?

-- Nick Hanover


Zombie Apocalypse in General

Nobody knew, that fateful day in 1968 when George Romero wrapped production on his low-budget debut, Night of the Living Dead, that he was starting a horror revolution. Somehow, nobody had thought to combine the idea of the walking dead with cannibalism, but that was the spark of twisted imagination that spread like a plague.  Before long the Blind Dead were walking (riding horses, actually), Children were playing with Dead Things, and the zombie apocalypse had spread from the Garden of the Dead to Manchester Morgue! Shock Waves spread to Nightmare City and Beyond after the Dawn of the Dead broke. And by the time Day had come, the Living Dead were Re-Animating, Returning, and Rampaging all around America and Europe.

And that was just up through the 80s!

For some reason, the endless wave of walking corpses hungry for living flesh resonates in a way that practically eclipses other classic monsters in pop culture despite not being romantic or tragic or even particularly imaginative. They are simply death incarnate and cannot be argued with. They are our inevitable end, thrown in our still-breathing faces.

As the 80s progressed and became the 90s, the cannibal ghouls spread into video games and fiction, most notably in the Resident Evil games and the short story collections Book of the Dead (1989) and Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2 (1992). After a few years of weak film entries, effects guru Tom Savini remade Night of the Living Dead, Peter Jackson released the Kiwi splatterstick classic Braindead, Michele Soavi adapted the Italian Dylan Dog horror comics into Dellamorte, Dellamore, and Wilson Yip brought Bio Zombie to Hong Kong, providing worldwide high water marks for the end of the century.

Maybe it was surviving Y2K, or maybe it was something radioactive in the water, but as we crossed over into a new century, the Zombie Apocalypse exploded, with the sheer volume of films, books, comics, and games surging into the marketplace (and the pop culture landscape) threatening to actually become – gasp! – mainstream! The question was could what was now a well-established genre of its own appeal to the unwashed masses without watering down the existential themes and the unapologetic gore?

Sort of.

In games, fiction, and comics, things were just as dark and disgusting as they ever were. The Resident Evil series of games has continued alongside fresh-faced youngsters like Left 4 Dead. In fiction, Brian Keene's The Rising novels took an innovative and interesting approach to the undead, and Max Brooks made his name with the tongue-through-cheek Zombie Survival Guide and the acclaimed novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. David Wellington made waves by serializing his novel Monster Island online before scoring a publisher and continuing to work in the genre, while Seth Grahame-Smith mashed up Jane Austen with flesh-eating ghouls in the wildly popular Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Oh, and in comics, a little black and white title called The Walking Dead popped up.

As far as live action goes, zombie films are still being produced at an alarming rate, and while many are poorly-produced low-budget atrocities, Resident Evil has been translated into a highly successful (if critically derided) series of films, Zack Snyder remade Dawn of the Dead as a non-stop action extravaganza, and Edgar Wright crafted what might be the greatest zombie film of all time, despite ostensibly being a comedy, with Shaun of the Dead. And to be quite honest, a lot of those lower budget films have their charms as well.

But it's TV where the Zombie Zeitgeist has really proven to have the widest appeal with the phenomenal success of the TV adaptation of The Walking Dead. There's no way that George Romero could have imagined back in 1968, that in 2012 more viewers would be watching a Romero-inspired zombie drama, week in and week out, than ANY OTHER SCRIPTED SHOW ON TELEVISION.

It seems like we, as a culture, just can't get enough of death.

-- Paul Brian McCoy


And there you have it!

Now we here in the CB Bunker are well aware that there are an endless amount of wonderful Ends of the World floating around out there (which made picking just ten a bit of a chore), so please log into the comments below and let us know which ones are your favorites!

And for those of you who want a little more Apocalyptic cheer, our very own Nick Hanover has put together a Comics Bulleting Apocalypse 2012 Spotify playlist for your endtimes pleasure.

See you on the other side!

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